Autumn in Texas lasts about 48 hours.
Few of our trees change colors. Instead they cling to their green leaves until, one cool day, they shed them like unimpressive suitors.
Still, I crave fall color. For Valentine's Day 2013, my husband invested $100 in this Shantung maple. It's a Texas SuperStar, described thus: This beautiful maple has spreading canopy with attractive foliage that turns spectacular red or red–orange in late fall.
The first fall, the tree showed absolutely no color.
I fed it and tucked it into a blanket of winter mulch. Year two came and went with no red, no orange, not even brown. Maybe it was still getting it's tree legs?
More food, more TLC, and even some base plantings to suggest to the tree what color looks like.
I was full of hope this third autumn. Perhaps the maple would be inspired by the mentor trees across the street--sweet gums in full riotous reds and oranges.
Check the photo. Half the leaves are already gone--green leaves on green grass. I think my maple is a dud. A failure. Spectacular is just not in its vocabulary.
Yesterday, winter winds revealed how wrong I was.
Turns out, this slacker tree is actually perfect. It was selected from among finer trees by a female mockingbird.
The tree's stubbornly green leaves protected her and her family until they and the leaves flew away in their season. Mama Mocker thought this was, indeed, a spectacular tree.
Maybe I was overlooking what was hiding in plain sight.
That's when I noticed that the maple has doubled in size since that first Valentine's Day. It enthusiastically reaches for the sky in a balanced, branchy way. It is an optimist that will bud again before this winter ends.
For years I tried to write fiction. One story was rejected 32 times before publication. The others continue to circle through publishers, rather like water down the drain.
I thought it was because I was new at this. So, I attended conferences, took online classes, and got my BIC.
Year two and three went by, and my fiction was still "green". Mentor texts and colleagues revealed their secrets, but my imagination refused to get vivid. My writing was a failure. My stories were duds.
Then, one summer, I tried my hand at nonfiction. Research became addictive, my subject became a family member, the writing was more effortless. Turns out, creating color from my imagination isn't my strength. But constructing a nest to support the life of another is.
I'm still not good at fiction. But my picture book biography of Captain Hanson Gregory, inventor of the doughnut, will debut May 3 from HMH. And I think it is pretty spectacular.
What about you? What have you discovered about yourself as a writer? Please share in the comments.